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To Know Your Enemy, Become Your Enemy in Table Tennis

Two Minute Tips


Australian table tennis player Paul Pinkewich

If you have trouble with combination bat defenders like Australia's Paul Pinkewich, try copying their style for a while!

© Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

"To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy."

Quotes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

I have written previously about getting to know your own game better by studying your strengths and weaknesses, and how to use the same method to better understand your opponent in order to choose the best tactics to play against him.

But in this quick tip I'd like to focus on the second of Sun Tzu's quotes, and how we can apply it to table tennis.

Becoming Your Enemy

If one particular player or play style always gives you a lot of trouble, then it might be worth considering copying your opponent for a while to really understand his style's strengths and weaknesses.

Obviously I'm not recommending that you do this for long enough to affect your own natural style of play, but a few matches spread out over several training sessions should give you a deeper insight into what advantages and disadvantages your opponent has to deal with.

Personal Case Study:

Several times in my table tennis career I have switched to playing a two wing looping style. When I switch to this style, I have a very good record against combination bat players and defensive players. Why is this?

Simply because after having played defensively with a combination bat myself for many years, I understand intimately the strengths and weaknesses of my opponents. I know exactly how tough it is to chop against a fast attack aimed straight at the right hip, and how easy it is to deal with heavy topspin balls with long pips, while it is much more difficult to handle the same topspin balls with the inverted rubber. I understand how the defensive player dislikes being caught at mid-depth, and I perhaps most of all I know almost exactly what my opponent's antispin or long pips rubbers will do against the different spins that I use.

Because I have played the same style as my opponent, using a racket with similar materials, I have in effect been my opponent in the past. This makes it much easier to know how to play to his weaknesses and avoid his strengths.

Similarly, those times I spent playing as a two wing looper have also made it easier for me to play against other two wing loopers when I use my normal combination bat defensive style. I know what I found difficult to handle when I was two wing looping against a good combination bat player, and I can use the same methods against my looping opponents when I go back to my defensive style.


Getting to know your opponent by mimicking his style for a while is a powerful technique that will give you insights into your opponent's game that are difficult to get any other way. But use it with care and limit the time you spend copying your enemy, since you don't want to affect your own natural style of play too much. Plus you run the risk of becoming a convert to your opponent's style!

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